Proposed English Morpheme: Deontic [ɪst]

The other morning I was getting coffee at my favorite coffee shop in Seattle. I was housesitting for a friend, and so was wearing a backpack with extra clothes in it in addition to carrying my laptop and lunch bag. The combination of these things left me so awkwardly encumbered that I had a hard time maneuvering around the other customers at the counter. The proprietor said to me, “You have too much stuff.” It was clear from context and prosody that she was empathizing instead of condemning, but wouldn’t it be neat if you could tell this from morphology as well?

What we need is a deontic morpheme that attaches to a broad class of adjectives and adverbs. I propose word-final [ɪst], spelled “ist”. So you say, “You have too much stuff” to express sympathy for someone wearing a heavy backpack, but “You have tooist much stuff” when sniffing disdainfully at a McMansion’s garish decor. “Good tuna” is flavorful while “goodist tuna” is dolphin-safe. “No one wears whitist after Labor Day” might be a fashion stickler’s injunction, while “No one wears white after Labor Day” is merely incorrect. To promise “I’ll be there at three o’clockist” is to make a show of recognizing that your interlocutor’s time is valuable. When forced by circumstance to compromise our principles, we would say that what we did was “right but not rightist”.

I suppose it makes more sense to attach a deontic morpheme to a verb, since social obligation is concerned with what you should and shouldn’t do, but I like the feel of attaching it to modifiers instead. The one verbal exception is that there’d be no more prescriptivist business about “can” versus “may” because “may” would become archaic. In everyday speech there’d be just “can” and “cannist”, and people would always mark the distinction. You’d think that would make prescriptivists happy because then everyone would be speaking the “correct” way, but really it would upset them because that’s one less opportunity to be a prissy nitpicking martinet.

How productive could this morpheme be? The easiest examples to come up with are adjectives that have some ethical cast to them. But if instead you append -ist to a randomly-chosen adjective token, can you invent a story to justify it? I find this difficult, but maybe that’s just lack of imagination on my part. And are there real languages that have this morpheme? A cursory Googling turns up various ways of marking obligation, but nothing exactly like this.

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